This is one of my signature recipes: one of the things I always make at Christmas and give away, one of the things I make for us to eat, and the reason my husband married me (or so he says :) ).
Some tips before you begin: you can make great shortbread completely by hand, but it is some work. I vacillate over whether I like it better made by hand or better with the aid of a mixer or food processor. It's certainly easier with a mixer, so if you want to go that route, you have my blessing! Shortbread is best finished by hand and therefore needs to be chilled before baking; the heat of your hands softens the butter too much. To achieve perfect, sandy-textured, "short" shortbread, the dough should be chilled for 30 minutes so that the butter will harden back up before being baked.
Second, the type of flour you use makes a real difference. You need a hard winter wheat flour--just about any Northern white all-purpose flour will do the trick. I prefer King Arthur flour. (Southern all-purpose flour is usually softer--better for biscuits and the like).
Enjoy! (this recipe below is copied from America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook--the first cookbook recipe I found that called for chilling the dough; I'd found that step crucial during my first trials)
- 2 1/4 c. all-purpose flour, plus extra for the counter
- 1/2 t. salt
- 1 c. unsalted butter, softened
- 1/2 c. confectioner's sugar (do not substitute granulated here)
- 2 T. granulated sugar (for sprinkling on top)
- Whisk flour and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside. Beat butter and confectioner's sugar together in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy; 3 to 6 minutes, scraping down bowl and beaters as needed. Reduce mixer speed to low and slowly mix in flour mixture until combined, about 30 seconds.
- Using your hands, press the dough into a ball in the bowl. Transfer to the dough to a lightly floured counter and knead until it is very smooth, about 3 minutes. Press the dough into a round disk*, then place it on top of a large piece of parchment paper and roll out into a 9-inch circle, about 1/2-inch thick, using a rolling pin.
- Transfer the dough and parchment paper to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Crimp the edges, then poke all over with a fork and score into 16 wedges. Refrigerate the dough for at least 20 minutes.
- Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 300 degrees. Sprinkle the granulated sugar evenly over the dough. Bake until the shortbread is pale golden brown, 40 to 45 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through baking.
- Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack and, using a sharp knife, cut through the scored marks to separate the wedges. Let cool on the baking sheet for 1 hour before serving.
To make ahead: prepare dough through step 3 and refrigerate for up to 24 hours (cover with plastic wrap)
*If you are lucky enough to possess a shortbread mold, then disregard these directions. Pat dough (by hand) into mold and sprinkle with sugar. Refrigerate as directed and bake as directed. When you remove molds from oven, pop shortbread out of mold onto cooling rack. With sharp knife, cut through shortbread according to marks on your mold. The granulated sugar will end up on the bottom, but it still tastes great!